Isle of Dogs
In Isle of Dogs, Wes Anderson brings all the style, heart, and wit of Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) to a story of his own. This story is told by means of a prologue and four (very clearly labeled) acts following a young boy and a pack of dogs as they struggle against a geopolitical scheme to try and rid their home city of its canine friends.
Isle of Dogs plays with language extensively, and uses the quirks of its world to its advantage. Dog barks are “translated” into English for the viewer’s pleasure, while the humans speak their native tongue (Japanese, occasionally translated by a literal translator). There’s low-hanging fruit, like when the lead dog Chief (Bryan Cranston) tells another to pass on a message to a “bitch you’ll find there”, as well as light social commentary, like when Chief asks to see showdog Nutmeg’s (Scarlett Johansson) “tricks” but she refuses, or when Chief tries to reckon with his own nature and violent responses (“I bite, but I don’t know why.").
But as important as dog-to-dog and human-to-human dialogue is in furthering plot points and poking fun at the absurdity of the film, some of the most profound moments occur in the space between humans and their best friends, where actions and emotions establish connections where words cannot. In particular, watching the relationships between Atari (Koyu Rankin) and the main pack of dogs unfold is satisfying, endearing, and at times hilarious.
The winsome, charming world of tactile materials in stop-motion style doesn’t bar the film from diving into more gruesome scenes, like killing live sea creatures to prepare sushi or performing a kidney surgery. It also gives a platform to build up caricatures of relevant issues, like political leaders ignoring scientific findings, youth protesting against the powers at be, and marginalized populations being abused and mistreated for the betterment of the majority. That being said, this is a Wes Anderson film, so it certainly comes complete with its problematic blind spots.
This film was thoroughly enjoyable and another wonderful addition to the Anderson filmography. Smart, touching, beautiful, and odd, it seems to both exist in another world and yet feel deeply personal, a whimsical analogy to a human’s relationship with our four-legged friends.